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Tuesday, 21 March 1961

Mr COSTA (Banks) .- The Administrator's Speech contained promises of full employment and remedial plans to offset the detrimental effects of the Government's credit squeeze policy, but newspaper headlines are still announcing the dismissal of workers. Evidently, the Government is not succeeding in restoring the confidence of the people with its promises. Any go vernment worth its salt should be able to provide a job for every willing worker. We on the Opposition side are sorry that that is not the case at present. Ultimately, responsibility is not possible without an assured continuity of employment. Australia as a country is almost self-sufficient. The honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Chresby) talked about God's gifts to Australia; and I know they exist. As the honorable member said, we have great natural resources. With proper management - which is not forthcoming from this Government - efficient exploitation and just distribution of our resources, we have sufficient to provide jobs for all, with a good standard wage adequate to provide food and clothing and the necessaries of life, and enough left over to enable every family to own a home in a reasonable time.

However, that is not the case at present. The Menzies Government has had ample opportunities to attain those standards for every Australian family. In the words of an Australian colloquial phrase, the Government has had a great trot. It has enjoyed eleven continuous years of office. During that time, our primary industries which form the backbone of our economy, have had splendid seasons. Wheatgrowers and agriculturists of every kind have had splendid crops year after year. Stock-owners have benefited from bountiful rains, and losses from flood and tempest have been negligible. Secondary industry has also shared in the good fortune that flowed from the prosperity of our primary industries. Despite all the advantages it has had, despite the great buoyancy of the economy, the present Government has let the people down. The first responsibility of any good government is to ensure security for the people's families. The first charge on the national economy should be family security, for that is the right of all Australians. No section of the community should expect to be served until after each family is properly and adequately provided for. We see nothing in the Administrator's Speech calculated to promote family security, and I join with the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) who says that, to tell the story properly, one must start at the beginning. To tell the story briefly and honestly, one need only say that this Government has been a complete failure from start to finish.

The story of the present Administration commenced in 1949, after eight splendid years of Labour government, first under the leadership of the late Mr. Curtin, and then under the leadership of the late Mr. Chifley. During those eight years we had a period of great achievement and advancement in every field. First, under the late Mr. Curtin, the Labour government piloted Australia through a very difficult war period. It will be remembered that the present Government, led by Mr. Menzies, broke down under the strain when Australia faced the threat of invasion from the Japanese. When the Menzies Government broke down, the late Mr. Curtin was asked to take over and, under his administration, Australia successfully prosecuted a magnificent war effort.

Then, under the late Mr. Chifley, in the early post-war years, the Labour Government successfully piloted Australia through the difficult transition from war to peace. That period has been referred to by people everywhere as the golden era, an era when unemployment and adverse trade balances were things unheard of. I am confident that when the history of the post-war years is recorded by unbiased authors, Labour's achievement in demobilizing over 1,000,000 servicemen and servicewomen from the three armed services and placing them in civilian employment will be emphasized. We all remember the benefits that followed from the introduction of the post-war reconstruction scheme and other training schemes, which enabled men and women from the services to attain high and responsible positions in private enterprise and in the Public Service, positions which they had never hoped to attain but which, because of those schemes, they are now filling with the greatest of efficiency.

Unhappily for the people of Australia, the Labour Government went out of office in 1949. In that year, the people fell for the Menzies promises - promises which have never been honoured. In 1949, when the Labour Government went out of office, Australia's position, both internally and externally, was sounder than it had ever been. Statistics published throughout the world show clearly that during the years when Labour was in office, the increase in the cost of living was smaller in Australia than in any other country in the world. At that time, every worker, whether skilled or unskilled, had a job. As a matter of fact, there were jobs to spare. At that time, the workers could choose their positions. At that time, also, Australia's balance of payments stood at over £800,000,000. Her credit was sound and, for the first time in her history, Australia was able to pay £100,000,000 off her overseas debt. In addition to that, the Chifley Government made a gift of £35,000,000 to the United Kingdom Government to help tide it over a most difficult period when it was struggling to recover from the devastating effects of a recently conducted war effort. At the time, when our overseas balances stood at £800,000,000, the Australian £1 was worth 20s., not 5s., or even less, as it is to-day under the present Government. As against £800,000,000 in 1949, our overseas balances to-day are at the alltime low of £299,000,000 plus, I understand, £60,000,000 in gold reserves.

Several months ago, when our overseas balances were much higher, the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. McEwen) said that our economy was balanced on a razor's edge, and that we could crash at any moment. As against that, I remind honorable members that in 1949, when the Labour Government left office, it left the present Government a solid foundation upon which to build, yet this Government has made no use whatever of the real opportunity it has had to promote economic stability and social security for all. Instead of consolidating, the present Government has been tottering and jittering along for eleven years.

For instance, the story of import restrictions is well known to us all. This Government's policy of on and off, go and stop, fits and starts, of on again, off again, gone again Finnigan, is typical of its actions from the beginning of 1949. If reports are correct, this Government's vacillation has speeded up a little. For instance, its intention to enforce compulsory loans from insurance companies and superannuation funds proved abortive - the proposal was off before it ever got on. Its disgraceful, dishonest sales tax proposal did see the light of day. It was on for 90 days, and by it the Government defrauded the Australian people of £3,200,000. The way in which the Government reacts to pressure when it comes from the right quarter is remarkable. If bankers, brokers or big business make requests, they are met with ready acquiescence, whereas requests from representatives of the workers or the pensioners are rejected, as the general rule.

Let me return now to the Prime Minister's 1949 policy speech. It was full of rosy promises. The Leader of the Opposition has already mentioned the most important of them - the promise to put value back into the Australian £1. Honorable members on the Government side are inclined to be cynical when we mention this, but I think it is the crucial point. Because of this Government's procrastination, it is impossible to do anything about restoring the value of the Australian £1 now. It has depreciated too far to be restored completely, but it is not yet too late to endeavour to hold the present value of our currency. If some attempt is not made to hold the value of the £1 where it is, an economic crash is inevitable. This galloping deterioration of the value of the £1 under the Menzies Government would be laughable if it were not so tragic. It is tragic because it is seriously affecting so many honest, loyal citizens who deserve a better fate. It has had a serious detrimental effect upon Commonwealth bond investors, life assurance investors, small property investors, contributors to superannuation and pension funds, and those who have saved in order to have something by for a rainy day or to keep them in the declining years of their lives. All these people, together with the age and invalid pensioners, widows and repatriation pensioners, have seen their conditions broken down because of the depreciation in the purchasing power of the Australian £1 under the Menzies Government, or as it is more commonly called, inflation.

Other promises made by Mr. Menzies in his policy speech have yet to be implemented. One of these is the promise of constitutional reform, and every sensible person knows how important that is. We were also promised full employment. Instead of full employment and homeownership, we have had growing unemployment and an acute shortage of homes. Mr. Menzies also promised that costs of production would be reduced to enable us to enter new overseas markets. Instead of lower costs, we have had ever-increasing costs which have priced us out of all overseas markets. In the industrial field, the Prime Minister said that we would have higher real wages. That is another promise equivalent to the promise to put value back into the £1, and that has not been fulfilled. He said there would be profit-sharing, incentive payments and joint consultation on the job. On the development of our resources, he said -

We remain warm advocates of a Ministry of Development so as to concentrate effort upon the expansion of our productive resources.

Then he promised to pay much needed attention to more remote and undeveloped areas, such as the Northern Territory, the north of Queensland and the north-west of Western Australia. The honorable member for Griffith spoke about this matter and said that he supported the Prime Minister, but the Prime Minister is not doing anything to develop these areas.

If we have a look at these areas, we will find that the Government has done nothing to develop them. As a matter of fact, only two development projects have been undertaken by the Government. One is the Snowy Mountains project, which was started by the Labour Government. Members of the present Government parties sneered at the scheme when it was mentioned first and refused to attend the official opening. If it had not been for the Labour Party, the project would not have been started. The only development in Queensland is the Tinaroo irrigation scheme. The Labour Government of Queensland started this. It is the only scheme started and completed in northern Queensland. All the Menzies Government's promises have proved to be hollow and they remain unfulfilled.

In February, the Australian Council of Trade Unions brought a deputation to Canberra to meet the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) and to bring to his notice the serious unemployment position that had resulted from the Government's credit squeeze. The deputation had little satisfaction. The Treasurer acknowledged the seriousness of the position, but warned that it would become worse. We now know that the Treasurer was right and the position has become much worse. T shall read some newspaper headlines which give an idea of the position. There are more horrifying headlines, but these will serve to show what is happening. One read, " 60,000 textile hands face loss of pay ". They will either be retrenched or will work a shorter week.

Mr Curtin - In what newspaper does that appear?

Mr COSTA - The Hobart "Mercury". The Sydney " Sun " reported that the Premier of New South Wales was upset and disturbed because skilled workers were leaving New South Wales. These men had lost their jobs m industry because of the credit squeeze. On a previous occasion, unemployed workers had to travel to New Zealand to find work. Then, a friend of the Government is reported as having said that 150,000 may lose their jobs. He said -

Unemployment could rise to between 150,000 and 200,000 as the result of the measures adopted by the Federal Government last November.

This was said by the noted economist, Sir Douglas Copland, who is a friend of the Government. At the deputation to the Treasurer, Mr. Monk, the president of the A.C.T.U., made some practical suggestions to correct the tragedy of unemployment and the financial stresses that exist. In my opinion, his suggestions provide the only means of correcting the position. He said that price control should be introduced, profits should be limited and many profits not at present subject to taxation should be brought within the field of taxation. He advocated the institution of a capital gains tax, the control of hire purchase and the limitation of profits made from it. He pointed out that measures to curb hire purchase would counteract the loss of purchasing power and would expand the real purchasing power of money by increasing real wages. He suggested that more credit be made available at low interest rates to promote home building and that effective action be taken to channel the necessary finance for the construction of schools, hospitals and essential public works.

I am sorry that time does not permit me to elaborate on these points, but in my opinion the suggestions made by the leader nf the trade union movement would not only curb unemployment but would also prevent its occurring again. They would, further, restrict inflation. However, it is well known that this Government takes little notice of suggestions made on behalf of workers and pensioners. It responds only to pressure from insurance companies, private bankers, brokers, big business and leading monopolists. As a matter of fact, t is well known that this group runs the Government and unless the Government responds to pressure from these people, it will lose office. I think the group is getting sick of the Government.

Earlier, I mentioned the sound economy built up by the Labour Party before it went out of office in 1949. The Labour Party succeeded in doing this because it had power under national security war-time regulations to control prices and costs. The Government's statistical records show that from 1940 to 1949 the cost of living increased on the average by about 5 per cent., and from 1949 to 1959, under this Government, the increase average about 10 per cent. These are points that should be remembered. If the community is to benefit by experience, the Government should look back at the state of the nation's economy from 1946 to 1948. I believe that the root of our economic trouble is to be found in the cost structure. I know that Government spokesmen will repeat, as they have done for the past eleven years, *he old excuse that the Government does not possess the necessary constitutional powers. However, it is time that the Government realized its responsibility, and sought from the people, by way of referendum, the powers that it needs. If the position were properly explained, I am sure that the people would grant any request of the Government for more powers. The Government should cease treating the people as a pack of gullible irresponsibles. It should take some positive steps to prevent Australia's economic position from worsening.

It is obvious that the measures taken by the Government last November and some time before that have failed to achieve their objective. Let us examine them. First, sales tax on motor vehicles was increased and this has already been abandoned because it failed. Then the requirement that 30 per cent, of the funds of insurance companies must be invested in Commonwealth loans has been abandoned. The credit squeeze, which is still with us and which has resulted in unemployment, is causing economic chaos. Finally, the adjustment in the deductibility for income tax purposes of interest payments is under review. The Treasurer, apparently, is to have more talks with the hire-purchase industry in an attempt to unravel the tangle of Government thinking on this matter, lt appears likely that the right brand of pressure will be applied and this measure will be abandoned or modified.

The only other matter is the lifting of import restrictions. This also has proved a failure. It is creating unemployment in Australia but is creating employment for foreigners in other countries. It is also having its effect on our balance of payments. Our overseas balances are now at their lowest level of £299,000,000 and they are likely to decrease further.

I believe that this monopolistic and capitalistic system which this Government has been trying to prop up for the past eleven years is coming to the end of its reign. Not all the barracking of 74 members opposite and all their friends can save this system. It is a system of capitalism that is failing all over the world to help the many who are poor and it can never be saved for the few who are rich. It is like a perished tube; as fast as one hole is patched, it blows out somewhere else. I am glad that the election is to be held this year. I believe that the people now realize the mistake that they made in 1949 when they missed a great opportunity to keep in office a government that would have done many things to help the country. I am sure that they will return Labour to office in December next so that it can once again do the things that it was doing so splendidly before it left office in 1949.

Sitting suspended from 5.S5 to 8 p.m.

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